The Bee Lie

BROTHERS AND SISTERS, I'm here to talk about the Bee.

Not the semi-secret social club. Not the second letter of the alphabet.

No, I mean the little furry insect which Columbia Pictures is currently slandering on thousands of movie screens across the nation.

Yes, slandering.

LIFE IS DIFFICULT for the world's trillions of members of the species Apis mellifera. The lot of the common honeybee worker is a sorry one. Her life is a tale of oppression.

Most honeybee workers live no more than 40 days. They spend it collecting pollen and nectar, repairing the hive and acting as the slaves of their mother, the queen bee.

Never in her life will a honeybee worker have sex. She can't. She's basically a neutered number, kept down by the dictator of the hive. (And thousands of years of male-dominated evolution. All the drones ever do is eat. At least the queen bee has to lay eggs. Hundreds each day. Now that's work.)

Every day, from early March to late October, Ms. Honeybee will pollinate thousands of flowers. These flowers will then bloom and form apples, oranges, and myriad other fruits. America's fruit industry depends upon this oppressed worker for most of its cash crops.

AND WHAT THANKS does Ms. Honeybee get? She is squashed, sprayed, burned and generally marginalized by our society. And now, as I said, she is being slandered by Columbia Pictures.

One of the holiday season's most successful family pictures is Columbia's My Girl. Macaulay Culkin plays a sweet kid who falls in love with daughter-of-a-funeral-director Anna Chlumsky. All through the movie (so I'm told--I won't pay money to the oppressors of the workers), Chlumsky obsesses about death--an 11-year-old who's already into angst.

So, of course, Mac (you can't call him Culkin; he's America's Cutest Pre-Teen Guy) dies at the end of the film. How?

He's chased down by a swarm of bees. And stung to death.

Foul! Foul! No fair! Foul!

Now I won't say that no one has ever been stung to death by bees. Some people are terribly allergic to them, and one sting will end it all.

But you will never get me to believe that anyone's ever been "chased down by a swarm of bees."

When bees swarm, they have absolutely no incentive to sting anybody. They usually sting insensitive boors who kick their hives or stand half a foot away from them wearing black and threatening to steal their honey. (Bees don't like red or black, which look the same to them. Some ancestor of theirs had a traumatic experience when an ancient beekeeper fed them rancid molasses.)

People who attack bees deserve to be attacked back--even if they are very cute child actors who make millions of dollars per picture and get to hang out with Michael Jackson.

WHEN BEES SWARM, they're in a good mood. Why not? For one thing, it's a break for them. A new queen is about to hatch, so the old queen tells all her trusty workers they're moving out. They get to gorge themselves on honey for a couple hours instead of flying three miles to find the best clover available for nectar. Then they fly off to a convenient tree and just sit there while a few unlucky bees try to find a new place to set up housekeeping.

So they're on vacation and stuffed to the gills. It's the closest they'll ever come to sex. Why would they want to sting anybody?

Even the bees who usually act as guards take a break. Usually the most trigger-happy of the hive, they too slack off when swarming. Hell, there's no hive to defend, so why be paranoid? Just sit back and wait for the scouts to return.

But when most people see a swarm of bees, they don't know all these things. People are afraid of bees. Any time a flying insect with stripes appears at a picnic, someone will yell "A BEE! A BEE! KILL IT!" They're afraid they might get stung. If one "bee" means one sting, a swarm must means THOUSANDS, right?

Wrong. Bees are docile creatures even when they aren't swarming. Anyone can sit by a beehive for hours and watch them fly in and out and not get stung. And when they're swarming? Jeez, they just don't give a flying ball of wax who stands near them. They're on vacation.

But wasps, hornets and yellowjackets are mean little bastards. They'll sting anything in sight, over and over and over again, at the slightest provocation.

And therein lies the problem. Because yellowjackets have black and yellow stripes and bees have brown and orange stripes, most people confuse them. They think, "if it has stripes, it's a bee."

These people are, in a word, stupid.

Yellowjackets are scavengers. They'll eat anything, from old hotdogs to flat Coke. Bees sometimes drink Coke if there are no flowers available. Most of the time, they stick to an all-natural diet, though. They are rarely found at picnics.

Bees are also fuzzy and somewhat slow-moving. And they're orange and brown. Not shiny black and yellow, not fast-paced and aggressive.

Now I'm sure that Elehwany, the writer of My Girl, didn't mean to slander the world's bees. Like most of the world's humans, he was just raised in ignorance and bigotry, unable to distinguish between his friends the bees and his foes the yellowjackets.

But someone at Columbia Pictures might have checked to see if a swarm of bees would really kill innocent little Macaulay.

That is, if they weren't part of the international conspiracy (run by agents of the wasps) to defame the bees.

If this conspiracy is to be defeated, we all must know our social insects. We must, as a society, cease slandering the poor bee. And please, please unite with the oppressed workers of the world, and don't see My Girl. Wait for Mac to come back in Home Alone 2.

Liam T.A. Ford '91-'92 is a beekeeper in his spare time. He dresses mostly in black, and a little yellow--no, make that orange.